Welcome to the

Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

About Me

My photo
Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Acoma Pueblo--Sky City

Monday we got our things together and had an last breakfast with Bud and Gloria. They aren't going to change the sheets, in case, like last year, we return East on a path that brings us close to them. After many hugs and good-byes we headed northwest on rte 6 which bypasses Albuquerque and connects to I 40 at appropriately named Highland Meadows. So many reservations come together at this spot that for most of the area around Alb and all the way to Grants you travel on Indian land of one tribe or another. Many of the native villages are perched against the mesas and in many cases the only building that stands out against the background is the Mission Church--such is the case in Laguna. Soon we came to exit 108 and the road to Sky City.

We had chosen not to go there last year because I feared the heights that the name implied. Bud and Gloria assured me that the city is high but it is on a flat mesa and that there would be no drop offs to frighten me. So this year we ventured to the Visitors' Center where tickets for a tour are purchased. The tickets also provide a permit for still photography only. I asked about photographing people and was told to ask but that a gratuity was not necessary nor was one necessary for the guide, who is a native Acoman.

Though there is a road to the top of the mesa visitors are transported by bus on a road, we later learned, was paid for by Henry Fonda. He wanted to film there and needed a way to transport all the equipment and people so he built a road. Nice for the 200+ families that lived here year round. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When we reached the top we were greeted by a man of indeterminate age. I imagine he is in his late 20's, early 30's since he is an EMT and firefighter--that is usually a young man's game. He was born here and returned in grade school to live with his grandmother while his Dad sought work and a place to live. But at this point he told us of the history of this place. It was chosen because it is in a high position over the valley--easily defensible and also a great vantage point for any oncoming enemy tribes. In time the enemy was not the other Indians but the Spanish and because of superior manpower and weapons the natives were subdued and enslaved.

There is not now, nor has there ever been, electricity or water on the mesa. Some of the remaining 20 families have generators but they must still cart water up from the valley below. There are several natural cisterns which fill with rain water or snow melt and this water was traditionally the water used. Because of this lack many of the families moved down into the valley at the turn of the 20th C to be near the river that runs by the new village--Acomita.

Despite leaving the mesa the homes remain in the families. They are never sold or passed out of the family. It is a matriarchal community so the youngest girl inherits. If there is no youngest daughter then the youngest son inherits. No son? youngest daughter of the closest extended family member. If the home is not maintained it is taken over from the family by the tribal council which decides who gets it.  The tribal council also determines who the community leaders are. At one time the clan with the greatest number of members made up the tribal council, however, the Antelope clan was the majority when the Spanish took over, so the Antelope clan members continue to make up the  tribal council.

You will notice that our guide, Limbert Martinez ( Spaniards couldn't pronounce the Native names so they gave the families Spanish names and they have continued to use them.) is at times quite close to the edge and that we are quite high. Only once did I use another street and an alley to meet the group and thus avoided walking the edge. BTW, one of the members of our group was a Spaniard from Spain whose last name is Martinez. He said he was not responsible for the suffering of the Acoma at the hands of the friars who came to the Pueblo. We all laughed at his laughing denial.

Scattered throughout the village are ovens that may be used by any in the village---they can hold up to 100 loaves of bread so usually there is a major community bake. Just as the communal gathering of materials and labor to build and/or repair the homes.

Below the mesa are the fields used by the tribe as open range and also planting. In the shot of the road from the top the rock formation on the right is the one that Ford used to introduce its Ford 250 or some such number truck. They airlifted it with a helicopter to the top--but to Limbert's disappointment took the truck with them when they were finished.

Bill is standing next to a ladder that leads to a kiva, which is an important religious room entered through a hole in the roof. Legend has it that the people arose from the earth into the land and cloud through a hole in the earth. The ladder has pointed tops to pierce the clouds, represented by the carving holding the sidebars together. There are two sets of stairs--one to go up and the other to come down. There is a kiva in each of the four directions on the mesa. Men only. Though men join the clan of their wives. Children have a major clan which is their mother's and a minor clan--their dad's.

As we wended our way to the starting point the Mission Church of San Esteban we came past the plaza where all of the festivals and celebrations are held. The elders sit along the side in the best seats as the parades and other ceremonies take place. For some the public are allowed, for others the Acoma keep to themselves.  There is only one tree on the mesa--a cottonwood and Limbert told us we were now in the Acoma National Forest! We also met his grandmother and he pointed out the house in which he grew up--the one with the ribbon of decoration added by a cousin. He invited us to knock on the door any time we returned and we would be welcome for a meal and visit.

We then arrived at the Church. The balcony at top was the classroom in which the villagers were taught Catholicism and Spanish. None of them speak Spanish now. Below the balcony is the jail in which the friars incarcerated those who resisted this civilizing instruction. As we entered the wall surrounding the cemetery and the Church entrance we were reminded that pictures were not allowed and men needed to remove their hats.

It is difficult to describe the Church--it is thick walled adobe that tapers in thickness from bottom to top. As can be imagined there is a significant temperature gradient between the outside and inside even in winter. Having no electricity the interior is illuminated by highly placed windows and in winter by candles. The Bells were given to the village by the Spanish King as were the Stations of the Cross. The ceiling is high and held up by huge logs that had been carried by teams of 20 men on their shoulders from Mt Taylor--that snow capped mountain seen in the background several times--a good 30 miles away. AND they were not allowed to touch the ground in transit. No roads, no stairs and slave Acomans. BTW, the Friars' garden, which was in the courtyard behind the classroom, was tended by the women, also slaves. How embarrassing! 

The tour then ended with some people, including Bill, choosing to descend by the ancient stairs. I knew I could not walk off into space like that but Bill said it was even worse lower down where he had to walk leaning backward and hold the holes in the walls the descent was so steep. His legs were extremely rubbery and I think he was surprised at the affect. His greater surprise is that there were no notices of danger or warnings or notification of lack of responsibility for injury or worse. He said this would never happen in the suit conscious east.

At any rate, after a quick jaunt through the gift shop we headed on our way to I 40 west and Grants where we spent the night.  Despite the fact that the town is destitute since old 66 was superseded, there is a rather nice steak house and after 2 1/2 hours of walking in the thin air we decided we earned a nice prime rib.

No comments:

Post a Comment